Why sport hits business for six at data analytics

Darren Roos
Manchester City employs 11 data analysts (Source: Getty)
Professional sport has been transformed by real-time data analytics. Fans, coaches and even players themselves are now using statistics to enrich their experience, or to gain some kind of advantage over the competition.

Unsurprisingly, it’s football (the biggest and most popular sport in the world) that is pioneering the use of data. Gary Neville’s detailed analysis on Sky Sports on Monday Night Football has become a phenomenon. Further, all 20 clubs in the Premier League – and many in the lower divisions – now employ data analysts to make sense of this information (Manchester City has 11 of them). Total metres run throughout a game, the number of sprints made, passes completed and tackles made all inform a successful training strategy, influence a player’s salary – and even help corporate sponsors determine which football clubs and players they will back. Whichever way you look at it, data has become the twelfth man on the field.

Tennis provides another great example of where sport is pushing the limits of data to improve performance in real-time. We’ve teamed up with the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) to develop an app that uses data to analyse player performance. The coaching staff currently have access to live player data via specialist software, but from next season, the WTA is going to be the first to allow coaches to bring smartphones onto the court during breaks. In this way, players like Serena Williams and Caroline Wozniacki will be able to adapt their serving patterns and shot selection based on real-time statistics – a significant step change in the game dynamics.

While professional sport has seized the opportunities that big data can offer, what of business?

For companies such as Amazon and Google, data analytics is firmly established within the foundation of their enterprises. Yet arguably, these are in the minority. The reality for most organisations is that success with data has been limited to a few tests or to narrow slices of the business. According to a recent report from McKinsey, very few businesses have achieved “big impact through big data.”

Since it is now possible to digitise anything, it is this new landscape that will provide opportunities to gain competitive advantage.

Many companies have now reached the stage where they recognise this and are beginning to take advantage of the “digital economy”; collecting data from as many different sources as possible – including devices, processes, employees and customers.

But it is the next stage that is critical for enabling improvements in decision-making; accessing and analysing this mass of data in the right way. Here, the much-lauded cloud can play an incredibly useful role in ensuring that the data is at its most up-to-date and instantly retrievable, and also that it can enable integration across different systems, as long as it is using the right platform.

In order to build the right capability that suits your organisation, it is important to identify your objectives – and then work backwards. Whether it be predicting customers’ behaviour, improving customer service, or identifying pinch points within day-to-day operations, it’s vital that you establish how data can help in the first instance.

The next time you’re watching a sports event, take a moment to consider whether your business is harnessing the power of data in the same way. The rewards could be unprecedented.

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